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Last summer on a Saturday night when the Richmond Apple Market was robbed, only one Richmond Police officer responded to the scene. Other officers were not busy. Other crimes were not taking place. He was the only one on duty.
This is becoming a more common occurrence on the streets of Richmond and is a problem that has Richmond Police Chief Terri McWilliams worried. The department is now down to 10 full-time and one part-time police officers after starting out with 14 full-time and two part-time officers. The department has lost officers over the past year, including detective Bernie Coulter who left to take a teaching position. Now the department only has one detective to work cases.
“My fear is with the revenue going down everywhere else, we’re not going to be able to replace all of those people,” McWilliams said.
During the city’s budget process in September, council members told her that one of the full-time officers and one part-time officer could not be replaced.
On Monday, the United States Justice Department released information about a grant program aimed at retaining police officers. The Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program was originally instituted during the Clinton Administration and was focused on the hiring of new police officers. This grant is aimed more towards retaining officers.
“This investment of Recovery Act funds will pump new resources into our communities through a program with a proven track record,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement released on Monday. “We will not just create and preserve jobs, but also increase community policing capacity and crime-prevention efforts.”
Unlike other federal programs, funding is allocated directly to local levels. Since 1995 the program has provided more than $10 billion in resources and has hired 117,000 officers, according to the Justice Department.
The department says that in the next two years the program will create or retain 5,500 positions.
With the grant comes a commitment from the local agency. The grant picks up the first three years of salary and benefits, however, the agency must employ the officer for an additional year.
McWilliams does not have much time to get an application together because they are due by April 14. However, she said she doesn’t want to wait that long to get the paperwork. Furthermore McWilliams said if the city were not able to get some help, she would have to do some major restructuring of her department.
“I’m going to have to do some serious regrouping,” she said, about the possibility of not getting help. “I’m hopeful with this grant that we’ll get a pretty quick answer so I’ll know what to do at that point. [If not] Then I’m going to have to sit down with the budget and make some tough decisions myself.”